Dale Yu: Review of Evergreen


  • Designer: Hjalmar Hach
  • Publisher: Horrible Guild
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Played with copy provided by publisher


When I was reading up on Evergreen as part of my research; I thought to myself that it sounded familiar.  When I got to GenCon and had a chance to talk to the designer, Hjalmar Hach, I realized that this game is very much the successor to one of his previous titles, Photosynthesis.  Though the board looks a bit different – here a recessed board where you plug in wooden tree-ples (as opposed to a flat board where you stand up cardboard standee trees); much of the theme and concepts are shared between the games.  In Evergreen, your goal is to build a lush ecosystem by planting seeds, growing trees, and placing other natural elements on your planet, trying to make it the greenest and most fertile of all.  


Each player gets their own planet board – which shows the planet broken up into 6 different biomes.  There are some power tracks on the top edge of the board while the individual score track is seen directly around the planet.  Each player board is identical, and they are two layer affairs, leaving spaces deep enough to hold the wooden cylinders used to mark positions on the board.  A start player is chosen, and that player starts with 0 VPs.  Going around the board, successive players each start with one more VP than the player before them.  The players agree on a starting position for the Sun, and all players place their Sun in that chosen position around their boards..


There are a bunch of wooden bits in the supply – the small Sprouts, which can grow to become small trees which themselves can grow into big trees.  There are also bushes and lakes which are placed in their own piles.  The deck of Biome cards is then shuffled (there are 6 cards for each biome as well as 6 Wild cards).  Cards are flipped up until there are at least 5 Fertility icons seen on the cards on the table.  The non-Fertility cards are replaced to the deck (which is then reshuffled), and the cards on the table are arranged by biome in the Fertility Zone.  This area will be important for scoring.


The game is played over 14 rounds divided up into the four seasons.  The seasons do not have an equal number of rounds; and there is a player aid in the bottom left corner of each player board to remind you of the sequence.  In each round, there are 3 phases: Draft, Actions, Cleanup.  You will score at the end of each Season, and there is some endgame scoring at the end of the year.


Draft – Flip up N+1 cards from the deck to form the drafting pool.  The start player goes first and chooses any card from the draft pool.  Then, he places the First Player token on the leftmost card remaining.  Other players draft cards in clockwise order, and if a player chooses the card with the First Player token, they get it for the next turn.  If no one chooses it, the First Player goes back to the current First Player.  When all players have chosen their card, there will be one card left.  If the card has a Fertility icon on it, it is placed in the Fertility Zone.  Again, remember that the cards here should be grouped by biome.  If it has an Aridity symbol, the topmost card in that biome’s stack is flipped over, and then the Aridity card is placed on top of it.  If the leftover card has no symbol on it, it is simply discarded.


Actions and Powers – each player now can take their action and their bonus power, in any order – though each must be completed before the other can happen.  There are two different action mechanics: Plant a sprout in an empty space; growth (sprout -> small tree or small tree -> large tree), and there are four different combinations of these actions – see the chart in the lower right of the player board to remind you of these combinations.  Remember that all the effects from this action choice must be performed in the biome shown on the drafted card from this round


The bonus is seen in the bottom right corner of their card drafted this round – you first upgrade the power – that is advance the cylinder on the matching track at the top of their board – and then you perform the power – a number of times equal to the new position of the marker on the matching track.  Unlike the actions, the powers can be applied to any space on your board; not limited to just the biome seen on the card.  The powers are:


  • Plant a sprout (into any biome)
  • Grow a sprout into a small tree
  • Grow a small tree into a Big Tree
  • Plant a bush
  • Place a lake into an empty space, then do a growth action on up to 2 orthogonally adjacent spaces to the new lake
  • Score points equal to the position of the Bud power marker


Take the card drafted this round and place it in your discard pile.  Compare the number of cards in your pile to the number needed per season (5 in spring, 4 in summer ,3 in fall, 2 in winter).  If you have met the count for the current season, the season ends and there is interim scoring.  Otherwise, play another round.


End of Season scoring


At the end of each season, you score for two things – Collected Light and for your largest Forest.  To calculate your Light, you look to see which of your trees are hit with sunlight. Remember that the sun is placed on one edge of your board – and you sunlight streams onto your planet in straight lines perpendicular to the sun edge of the board.  Small trees hit by light score 1 point, and Big trees hit by light score 2 points. (Sprouts, bushes and lakes do not score sunlight).  However, while figuring out the sun, you have to take into account the shadows of the trees – small trees create a one-space deep shadow and big trees create a two-space deep shadow.  Remember that a big tree directly behind a small tree will still get sunlight because the shadow from the small tree doesn’t completely obstruct the big!  Also, you need to remember the non-intuitive step that trees that are in the shade themselves still make shadows… Essentially for each tree that you try to score, you have to look in front of it to see if it is blocked from the sun or not.


Next, count your largest forest – that is a contiguous area of trees and bushes.  Score 1 point per tree and bush in your largest forest; and note that this can span across multiple biomes.  Finally, change the season – move the marker in the season chart to the next spot, move the sun clockwise around your board, and discard all the biome cards collected in the previous season.  Repeat through all four seasons.

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At the end of Winter, the game ends.  You still do the regular scoring (for sunlight and largest forest), and then you score each of your Biomes one last time.  Throughout the game, cards have been placed in the Fertility Zone.  Now, for each biome, each player multiplies the number of Big Trees on their board in the Biome by the number of Fertility symbols seen on cards of that biome in the Fertility Zone.  Add those points to your total.  The player with the most points wins, ties broken in favor of earlier player order at the end of the game.


My thoughts on the game


So after looking at the bits and reading the rules, I immediately felt this was another Photosynthesis; the growth cycle of trees, the scoring based on the trees catching the sunlight, etc – the question was – would it be better?   The biggest difference is that each player has their own board in this game rather than fighting for dominance on a single board.


After my first few plays, I would say that I much prefer the new version.  To be sure, I’m a person who likes having their own area to fuss around in.  Here, other than the interaction in the card drafting phase; each player pretty much has their own kingdom where they can grow their trees as they wish.  


Though I felt that the interaction would be minimal, I was surprised to find that there are a number of different factors in the card drafting phase that can make a difference.  First, if the first player marker is available; the question about whether or not to take the card with it.  Going first obviously gives you the best choice in the next round – and depending on your situation, this could be an important factor in your decision. Next is consideration of the season depicted on the card.  Three of your four possible main action choices are limited to the season on the card; so you need to make sure you can perform actions where you want!  


After you get through those thoughts, you also have to think a bit about the Fertility effects of the card left behind – perhaps you want to prevent an Aridity icon from going on your favorite biome; and to avoid that, you have to take that card to play this round.  Or, you take a card you don’t want as much to nerf a powerful Fertility card in a biome you’re not too fond of… 


Finally, don’t forget to pay attention to the bonus action icon – both for positive play or to deny people downstream from you.  You should always remember that the bonus actions continue to improve in strength as you choose them again, so you might want to concentrate on one or two actions to get the most benefit from them – or if you have two equal choices, you might want to keep a particular icon away from your RHO.  In any event, there is actually a lot going on in the decision of which card to choose!


Once all players have chosen, and you see what gets placed into the Fertility Zone, you decide what action to take.  Early on, you’ll be choosing to make sprouts a lot, and this will morph into growth as the game moves on.  Of course, you will also need to take into account which bonus action you’ll get to take after the main action, and this might change your mind on your base action.  And, definitely don’t forget the option of doing a sprout or growth anywhere – while it is a much weaker action choice, the freedom of location can sometimes be well worth it.


The game moves at a nice pace.  Our first game took right around an hour, but this will definitely settle into the 30-40 minute range now that we all know the rules.  The end of the first season comes along fairly quickly, and usually I feel like I am just starting a strategy by the end of the 5th round.   It’s good to have a plan set by then, because the end of the first round is already more than a third of the total rounds in the game!


As successive interim scoring rounds happen quicker and quicker, you have to constantly be looking at how to improve your scoring situation with only a few actions.  Also, you’ll have to keep in mind that the sun moves to a different side of the board in each season – so this will also affect how and where you score.  Though you get fewer card actions each successive season, you will tend to get stronger bonus actions; and you’ll have to wisely use these bonuses to accomplish your goals.  For instance, if you have already maxed out your lake action, getting a card with a lake icon leads to the placement of 2 lakes which in turn could turn into 4 large trees!


Large trees are a definite overall goal of the game as a fair bit of the scoring can come from the final Fertility scoring.  In most of our games, scores are just above 100 at the end of the last interim scoring; while final scores can be 180-200.  So, a third to a half of the overall score comes from this final calculation – it simply cannot be ignored.  Keeping an eye on the fertility zone throughout the course of the game is key, and you might try to focus on the biomes that look like they’re going to have a big multiplier at the end.  Of course, the aridity icons keep the final standings a bit opaque until the end – so you just have to play the odds.  


The components  are well done.  The double level boards look great, and the little indentations are pretty good at holding the wooden bits in their places.  I like having all of the different tracks and the player aid info all on the player board – everyone has what they need in front of them.  The only downside is that this system makes the game feel even more solitaire than it is.  We have made a point to announce our scores at the end of each interim scoring so people know how we are doing.  There is a nice cardboard grid insert to hold all the bits, but I have had to add baggies to hold the stuff as I tend to store my games on their side in my Kallax shelves.


Though I don’t know the story behind why Mr. Hach decided to essentially refine one of his previous game designs, I must say that I like the results.  There are a lot of tough decisions to be made; yet the game plays quickly and most certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.  The game hits a few other key spots for me:  giving me an area of my own to play in, and giving me a fixed limited number of opportunities to do things – so making each action count is paramount!  One of the first keepers for me from the GenCon/SPIEL 2022 games.


Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers


Dan B. (1 play): I definitely like this better than Photosynthesis – but then I really didn’t care for Photosynthesis. I suspect that fans of Photosynthesis will not like this game as much. How much I really like this I will need more plays to decide – from one game it was hard to tell if the abilities balanced well and so forth. Having played on BGA, I am also not sure I will enjoy playing in person and having to swap out all the little wooden bits all the time.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. Steph H, John P, Dan B.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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